David Turk and Jim Law shake hands
Deputy Energy Secretary David Turk shakes hands with Jim Law, an Integrated Waste Treatment Unit (IWTU) system engineer, at the facility prior to a celebratory event marking the successful start and routine operations of IWTU.

IDAHO FALLS, Idaho – Deputy Energy Secretary David Turk and EM Senior Advisor William “Ike” White visited the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) Site last week to thank federal and contractor employees for the successful start and routine operations of a radioactive liquid waste treatment facility in support of milestones with the State of Idaho.

Turk and White were at the Integrated Waste Treatment Unit (IWTU) to recognize the efforts of engineers, fabricators, operators and other team members who helped the facility begin waste treatment operations. Since the IWTU started treating sodium-bearing waste in April, it has converted more than 68,000 gallons of liquid waste from nearby underground tanks to a safer, granular solid.

“Truly a one-of-a-kind facility, IWTU has treated waste because of the tenacity and skilled professionals who worked on the project,” said Turk. “On behalf of the Department of Energy, I want to thank every person on the IWTU team. Your efforts are recognized and deeply appreciated.”

Officials poste at IWTU Celebration
Officials gather at an event last week celebrating the successful start and routine operations of the Integrated Waste Treatment Unit at the Idaho National Laboratory Site.

White, who last visited the INL Site in March to celebrate the early completion of a spent nuclear fuel wet-to-dry campaign, also thanked IWTU staff.

“I am thrilled to be in Idaho to celebrate another important cleanup milestone,” White said. “We would not be here today without the expertise of those who made IWTU possible. Thank you for staying focused on your mission.”

The IWTU was constructed from 2007 to 2012 to treat almost 900,000 gallons of sodium-bearing waste generated during Cold War-era spent nuclear fuel reprocessing runs at the Idaho Nuclear Technology and Engineering Center. The IWTU has undergone hundreds of modifications and several tests using a simulant in the lead-up to the start of radioactive waste processing operations.

EM Crews tour the Facility Control Room at INL
Integrated Waste Treatment Unit (IWTU) Operator Russell O’Brien, left, welcomes Deputy Energy Secretary David Turk and EM Senior Advisor William “Ike” White, far right, into the facility's control room prior to a celebratory event.

“Because of the challenges presented, treating radioactive liquid waste, like the sodium-bearing waste here in Idaho, is one of the Department’s highest priorities,” said Turk. “I look forward to a continued dedication to the mission at IWTU and closing this important chapter in Environmental Management for the citizens of Idaho.”

Turk and White were joined by Idaho Gov. Brad Little, EM Idaho Cleanup Project Manager Connie Flohr, Idaho Environmental Coalition (IEC) President Ty Blackford, congressional staff members and others to thank the several hundreds of members of the workforce in attendance. IEC is EM’s cleanup contractor at the INL Site.

“Please accept my sincere gratitude for what you have accomplished at IWTU,” said Flohr. “Considering the amount of interest in the IWTU, you literally carried the weight of the cleanup program on your shoulders. This long ride hasn’t been easy, but reaching this point is so fulfilling.”

Ladd Edmo addresses crowd at IWTU celebration
Ladd Edmo, a member of the Fort Hall Business Council of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, speaks at a celebration last week recognizing the successful launch and routine operations of the Integrated Waste Treatment Unit at the Idaho National Laboratory Site.
Crowd at IWTU Celebration
A view of the guests at the Integrated Waste Treatment Unit celebration held last week at the Idaho National Laboratory Site.

Blackford, like Flohr, acknowledged the challenges the workforce had to overcome.

“This job required a lot of sacrifice over the last 16 years,” he said. “Nearly everyone spent considerable time away from friends and family, worked nights and weekends and put off vacations. In my nearly 40 years in the cleanup program, I’ve never seen such a focused, competent group of professionals in any location I’ve worked. You remained firmly focused on the prize.”

The IWTU is currently undergoing maintenance to replace components in its granulated activated carbon beds, which remove mercury from the treated sodium-bearing liquid waste. The outage is expected to last several months.

Sodium-bearing waste treatment is expected to take three to seven years to complete, accounting for outages to conduct regular maintenance on the facility.

-Contributor: Carter Harrison